People often dismiss feedback because they don’t like it, don’t agree with it, or don’t like the way it is delivered. But if we dismiss it, we may be sending a message that we don’t want to hear any feed- back. People may stop coming to us. And if this happens, we may miss valuable information. Remember; where there is smoke, there is fire. When someone tells us something, others usually have similar thoughts but lack the courage to say something. So it is a good idea to assume that others think the same thing.
It may be painful, but receiving feedback is a key to growth in life. If you think about the times you have grown the most, you may notice that those times came after you received some difficult feedback. After I had been conducting seminars for a year, I had a friend attend an evening speech to give me feedback. When I called to get his feedback, he began by saying, “You know, Steve, I am your friend…” and then for the next hour, he proceeded to rip the presentation apart. I walked around feeling sorry for myself for several days. I even thought I might be in the wrong profession. But then I realized that virtually all the feedback he gave me was about things I could change. I took most of his advice, made the changes, and the next time I delivered the speech, I was light years ahead of where I would have been without it.
How do you receive advice, especially when it is difficult to hear or you don’t like the way someone says it? Here are four tips.
1. Think of yourself as a sponge.
Listen, soak in the advice, and try not to respond. You can always wring it out and let go of it later. Don’t respond verbally or non-verbally; stay receptive. Remember, even if you are not happy with the feedback, it is better to know than not to know. After all, you can’t take action on something you don’t know about. It is better to receive unfiltered feed- back than to have others filter it for you.
2. Take notes.
If you find yourself wanting to debate the issue, remind yourself not to interrupt. Instead, write down your thoughts as the person is talking. If they ask you what you are writing, be honest and say, “I have some thoughts, but I want to really hear what you have to say before I respond, and I appreciate you talking to me.” People usually have mixed feelings while giving feedback. If you interject, they may turn off the feedback valve. Again, make them feel safe. Take notes to reduce the temptation to interrupt, respond, or debate.
3. Separate the message from the messenger.
Don’t get hung up on the words. Listen for the true message of what they are trying to convey. Sometimes when people are upset (or just because of the way they are), they do not say things in a way that is easy to hear. For example, they may say it with condescension or they may say it with an attitude. This may tempt you to dismiss what they are saying. Catch yourself. Remember, just because you don’t like the way someone says something or the person saying it, does not mean what they are saying is not valid, important, or beneficial.
4. Look for the gold.
It is easy to dismiss feedback when you don’t like what is said. The hard part is to take it in, sift through it, and look for the gold. Even if a lot of it is off-target, resist the urge to say, “This is wrong and has no merit.” Instead, ask yourself, “How can I benefit and grow from this feedback? What is helpful or useful?”
Think of feedback as a growth pill. You can choose whether to swallow it or not. The difference in your life can be tremendous.
Pass this tip on to people you care about; your co-workers, your boss, your employees, your family and friends. Use it as a basis to talk to the people around your office, in your organization, and your personal life. Consider those times when feedback has not been so easy, and how you could have approached or reacted differently. If you get stuck, send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact my office for help at 703 241 7796.